Under the Hood

Stuttering Brains Are Different All Over, Scientists Say

Scientists are digging deeper into the brain to find out what causes people to stutter.

According to a study in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers used a type of imaging called proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, which looks at the functioning of cells, on the brains of children and adults who stutter, and found they differ from the brains of those who do not stutter, specifically in areas involved in speech, attention and emotion. Although these have previously been implicated in stuttering, the study used a new method of viewing the effect. The findings “further intimate” that the disorder is linked to abnormalities in the brain’s circuits affecting speech, attention and emotion.

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“Moreover, the [extent] of the abnormalities seems to relate to the severity of stuttering as well,” study author Bradley Peterson, director of the Institute for the Developing Mind at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, said in a report in UPI.

When people stutter while they speak, they repeat certain sounds, like letters, syllables or whole words. About 1 percent of the world involuntarily stutters, according to the Stuttering Foundation of America. That number is higher in children, however, because many will outgrow the condition.

lips-839236_1920 Many people will outgrow their stutter, but the speech disorder still affects millions. Image courtesy of Pixabay, public domain

In addition to having difficulty communicating, people who stutter face other social challenges. Research has suggested that people who stutter during job interviews are less likely to be offered the position.

Experts do not entirely understand why some people stutter and others don’t, but speech therapy helps in many cases. And new research geared toward understanding stuttering “provides an important road map to developing interventions,” Peterson said.

Jane Fraser, the Stuttering Foundation president, told UPI that tackling the problem early is crucial to handling it. She added, “Don't think your child is stuck with something, no matter what it is.”

Read: How To Communicate With A Baby

Source: Peterson MD, O’Neill J, Dong Z, et al. Proton Chemical Shift Imaging of the Brain in Pediatric and Adult Developmental Stuttering. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016.

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